Papers, Please: Asserting White Supremacy Since 1492
Papers, Please: Asserting White Supremacy Since 1492
© Austin Cline
Are your papers in order? Can you prove that you're a citizen? If you're not sure you might want to take another look at your papers, especially if you plan on visiting Arizona any time soon (then again, why would you?). At least, you might want to verify your papers if you aren't white. There's virtually no chance that white people will be asked by Arstapo (Arizonastaatspolizei) for their papers. According to white conservatives, though, it's just a coincidence that white people are responsible for the passage of the law and will be responsible for enforcing the law by requiring non-whites to show their papers, but won't themselves be expected to carry proof of citizenship.

White Republicans have also assured everyone that this won't lead to racial profiling. It's amazing that there are actually people out there who believe this. First, there's just no credible basis for singling out on sight likely illegal immigrants in Arizona except by race (really, how many illegal immigrants from Poland or Canada are there in Arizona?). Second, so many supporters of Arizona's "Papers, Please" law have in the past expressed unapologetic support for racial profiling.

I guess it's also coincidence that those who support racial profiling while insisting that their policies won't actually lead to racial profiling just happen to be whites who are guaranteed to never be subjected to racial profiling? Of course this law will lead to racial profiling — that's what it was meant to do and that's what supporters always intended for it to do.



Irresponsible Republicans

I'd be tempted to feel sorry for how this issue is hitting Republicans if they didn't deserve this problem and more for their decades of racism and fear mongering. Republicans in office have little choice but to support the law, at least on technicalities, because too much of the base which they have cultivated over the decades is racist and xenophobic. Indeed, support for this law is so strong among devout conservatives that Republican politicians across the nation are either trying now or promising to try in the future to pass similar laws in their own states.

Not every Republican is racist and xenophobic, of course, but the most passionate part of the conservative base exhibits such qualities to too much of a degree — and they are the ones most likely to vote in primaries. The fact that not all Republicans are so racist is demonstrated by the fact that at least some Republicans are speaking out and criticizing the Arizona law — but almost none of them are in office or seeking office. They can afford to tell the truth, which in fact actually makes the Republican Party look far worse.

Republicans with a bit of self-respect and decency left recognize that they can't quite give the law their full support, yet they also can't tell the truth about it. Thus they point out that the law has problems but then pretend to understand why the law is perceived by people in Arizona as needed. This entails blaming the federal government for not tackling immigration problems more quickly.

I say they "pretend" here because so many of these Republicans are themselves in the federal government (someone wake John McCain up from his nap) and thus are themselves partially responsible for any lack of action by the federal government. These same Republicans also haven't criticized other Republicans who have taken deliberate action to sabotage immigration reform (I'm looking at you, bi-curious Lindsey Graham).

These Republicans don't really want to tackle immigration reform because it's inevitable that the only immigration bills with any chance of passing are those which help immigrants at least a little — the preferred Republican plan of rounding them all up and tossing them out of the back of a van into the Rio Grande won't fly. Anything that might help immigrants, though, (like, say, helping illegal immigrants get citizenship) will outrage the Republican Party base.


Hypocritical Tea Baggers

Even more noteworthy about all this is the reaction from the Tea Baggers — or perhaps I should say the lack of reaction from the Tea Baggers. We've sat through months of Tea Bagger complaints about government overreach and the threats to our liberty from government intrusions into our lives. In every case, there's been little to no empirical evidence that their complaints were based on any reality.

The most generous perspective on those complaints is that the Tea Baggers bought into lies from Republican leaders who sought to increase their profile through fear mongering. A less generous perspective would be that they generally knew they were complaining about nonsense but did it anyway because it made them feel better because they didn't have to admit openly that their real complaint was that a black man was in the White House.

So what are we to make about the overall lack of response to the Arizona "Papers, Please" law? Here is a genuine example of government overreach. Here is a genuine example of the government trying to infringe upon people's individual liberties. Why aren't the Tea Baggers protesting this? Why don't large numbers of Tea Baggers go to the state capitol in Arizona with guns and threatening signs? Where are all the "Don't Tread on Me" banners?

I don't think that there is a "most generous" interpretation this time. It's not plausible that the Tea Baggers are unaware of the law and it's not plausible that they are unaware of how it will impact people's lives. It seems to me that the only realistic interpretation is that they don't care how the Arizona law will impact people because it won't impact them or people like them — i.e., white people. Tea Baggers aren't stupid and know just as well as the rest of us that white people won't be stopped and asked for their papers like brown people will.

I think it's reasonable to believe that if Tea Baggers themselves were all checked for papers, identity, and citizenship at their rallies that they would scream bloody murder over the infringements on their rights. And they'd be correct to do so! What's more, I don't think they would accept it if corporations were regulated more closely and punished more harshly for hiring illegal immigrants. That would infringe upon the free market! Regarding a law as just and constitutional simply because it will disproportionately harm non-whites, though, is racism.

If you think that it's just, fair, and appropriate for brown people to have to carry around proof citizenship all the time and have to show their papers to anyone with a badge who demands it, but that white people be free from such impositions, then you are a racist. You should be the one tossed out the back of a van into the Rio Grande and your citizenship transferred to someone with darker skin from the south who will actually understand and appreciate what "liberty for all" really means.


Posturing Democrats

Don't get your hopes up about the Democratic Party, though. You can certainly hope, if you want, just don't get those hopes up too high. The Democrats definitely have better ideas about what to do with immigration, but just how likely are they to successfully push them through? That's the reason for pessimism. There are plenty of liberal Democrats who will back the right ideas for the right reasons, but there are also far too many conservative Democrats who will run from the right ideas because they are scared (legitimately) about a strong challenge from the Right in their districts.

As with every other significant piece of legislation so far, we can expect Democrats to desperately run around in circles to hold on to the votes of as many Democrats as possible while getting at least a few Republican votes (even though they should know that few if any Republicans will help them, no matter what they say before a vote comes). Democrats will give away just about every progressive reform or idea in order to have some sort of bill, even if it ends up causing more harm than good.

Republicans are not going to bring up immigration reform legislation themselves — they prefer to just hang back and throw eggs, complaining about the lack of action by the federal government even when they are part of the federal government. Democrats, though, have too much incentive to also not bring up immigration reform legislation. If they bring it up, they will have to take responsibility for it. This means they will have to take responsibility for adopting positions on questions about paths to citizenship, health care for immigrants, education for immigrants, cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and more.

Perhaps I'm too pessimistic. There are signs that some Democrats have learned that sometimes getting something done requires moving forward forcefully and with confidence, not asking timidly for permission to just have an opinion on matters. They may continue to have problems with minimum numbers, but if they can get over their timidity and the assumption that everything must be bipartisan, then the chances for some real and progressive immigration reform go up considerably.

Yeah, sometimes I think I'm too pessimistic. Then I read about how Democrats think that a good response to the "Papers, Please" law is to nationalize part of the law — to have a national "biometric" ID card which every worker is required to carry and show to any employer. Then I think that I'm not pessimistic enough. Then I think that some of these "national security" Democrats aren't the "lesser evil" compared to Republicans but actually the greater evil because at least most of the Republicans are open and honest about being morally twisted cretins.

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